Kennesaw Crossing development headed back to City Council

Brick Kennesaw government building with four tall wooden columns

By Rebecca Gaunt

The Kennesaw Crossing mixed-use development, which was originally approved in 2018, is going back in front of the Kennesaw City Council Feb. 7 because the developer says the market doesn’t support the hotel portion and is requesting a new economic analysis.

The 13-acre site was formerly home to the Electric Cowboy nightclub. Varner Developers began work in 2019 with a plan that included multi-family residential units, office space, retail and a hotel.

The inclusion of the hotel was of particular significance because the project is in a location city staff said they consider a key entry point to the city.

The developer is requesting a new fiscal analysis of Kennesaw Crossing to be completed by Georgia Tech in order to inform its upcoming rezoning request to replace the hotel with a storage facility.

Part of the original agreement with Varner requires the analysis before they can come before the Council to ask for changes. The analysis will be at the expense of the developer.

The Council vote Monday is only to approve moving forward with the service agreement with Georgia Tech. The developer must return to the Council for any zoning changes, and cannot build the storage facility without separate approval. Since Georgia Tech only works with municipalities, the agreement will be with the city, but the developer has already rendered a check to the city for the cost.

The storage facility idea was not met warmly at Monday’s work session.

“Looks to me like we got laid over the barrel again so to speak. $385,000 for abatements and we’re still not going to get our hotel,” Council member James “Doc” Eaton said.

According to City Manager Jeff Drobney, the multi-family portion and part of the commercial piece have been built.

Drobney said the new study would help inform the Council on the financial impact to the city of making such a change. Moving forward with it does not obligate the city to agree to changing the current plan.

Varner requested economic incentives in 2019, citing the expense of buying out Electric Cowboy, which still had several years left on its lease. Garvis Sams, attorney for the developer, told the Council then, that without the incentives, it would be impossible to pay the money owed the nightclub, which could stall the project with litigation, extend the timeline, or “result in a lesser quality of product.”

The $385,000 in fee abatements was approved in May 2019. Then-council-member David Blinkhorn was the lone nay vote, asking why the developer “negotiated with money you didn’t have.”

Zoning Administrator Darryl Simmons said the planning and zoning staff were not excited about the proposed substitution because “that master plan was built on specific uses, including that hotel.”

He also said the city has been approached by developers interested in building hotels, and was unsure what they had been told when sent Varner’s way.

“I’m not very excited about substituting a hotel, multiple job creation, for a climate controlled box that may generate two or three jobs, and it’s autonomous, and not part of the master plan,” Simmons said.

He added that Town Center Community Improvement District and Cobb County were involved in talks at the time of the rezoning for the hotel because both border on the property.

“We all said some type of tourism component would be appropriate,” Simmons said.

Mayor Derek Easterling ended the discussion saying, “Everybody here at the city wants them to follow through…we all know what we want. We voted on it. They presented it that way. And we’re moving forward. If something else better comes along, that’s when you have to make that decision. But for right now we want what we want. We want what was promised.”

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.